Monday, July 13, 2020

After high school, I had an internship on Wall Street for an investment adviser who worked for a major Jewish businessman and philanthropist. One day, my boss showed me a newspaper clipping about a large business in distress. A few investors came to the rescue. What interested him was the fact that they omitted the name of the largest investor—the Jewish philanthropist for whom my boss worked. Most people would look for the limelight, but not this man! He worked very hard to stay out of public view and was delighted his name did not make the papers.

This story reminds me of the episode with Korach, where his attitude was the opposite from the one above. Parshas Korach opens with “Vayikach Korach,” and Korach took. The Torah does not specify what he took and how he took it. All the commentators jump on these obvious questions. Rashi offers two explanations: The first explanation is that Korach took (separated) himself from public opinion to take issue with Moshe, the nation’s leader. The second explanation is Korach took aside the leaders of the high court (Sanhedrin) and used his powers of persuasion to convince them to join his rebellion.

There is another novel explanation from Rav Simcha Bunim Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe. The word kach, “take,” is the word the Torah normally uses to describe purchasing items through a sale, as we see in the “sale” of the Mearas Hamachpela by Efron to Avraham. The Gemara tells us that Yosef had amassed incredible wealth as the viceroy of Egypt and hid three massive storehouses of treasures. Korach discovered one of the storehouses and became extremely wealthy. It was this wealth that Korach used to “buy” people to side with him. “Vayikach Korach” thus means that Korach “purchased” people’s loyalty.

Shlomo Hamelech says, “Osher shamor l’ba’alov l’ra’aso”—some people’s wealth is guarded for their own harm, meaning that it causes their eventual downfall. The Gemara tells us this verse refers to Korach, whose wealth led to his downfall. In the end, Korach and all his possessions were swallowed up by the earth. These possessions are referred to in the phrase “yekum asher b’ragleihem,” the wealth that is at their feet. This was said specifically in reference to Korach’s co-conspirators, Dasan and Aviram, who were swallowed up at the same time as Korach. Rashi explains that the root of the word yekum is “kom”—to stand up. Ordinarily, a person’s assets give him stability to stand on his own two feet. The fact that Korach was swallowed up with all his assets indicates that his assets were connected to his crime; they did not serve as his security—rather, they caused the floor to fall out from under him!

Seforno adds that all of Korach’s possessions had to be removed from this world because Hashem wanted to ensure that no good could result from the pool of assets he used for his crime. As the Sifri says, if someone drops a coin and a poor person finds it, the loser gets reward for the charity accomplished. Possessions support a person in this world and, more importantly, in the next world. How so? We get our support in the next world from using our assets to help others in this world! Korach used his assets for the opposite result: he bought people’s allegiance in this world to create a coup to try to overthrow Moshe and Aharon, thereby causing those people to lose their share in the next world. Therefore, Hashem punished him by swallowing up his assets, ensuring that his assets could never be used to earn him a portion in the next world.

The person my boss worked for is someone who uses his money to support many yeshivos and chesed organizations without accolades and publicity for himself. He uses his creativity to avoid the limelight. His particular investments turn out to be very successful, both financially and personally, especially since his name is not mentioned, thereby showing his exclusive charitable intent.

Money can do much good, but it can also do much harm. Money is a tremendous blessing but must be used for the right purposes. Certainly, a portion of it should be properly used to support ourselves and our families. But having a significant amount of money, which takes place only with Hashem’s blessings, puts us in the role of a custodian appointed by Hashem. Whatever money we use to help others will support us…in the next world.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.